Appreciate Your Life Right Now
When biophysicist and cell-biologist Joyce Hawkes was knocked unconscious, she had a near-death experience that imparted a lasting sense of peace, joy, and clarity. Today, she is a healer who helps people appreciate the precious moments of their lives, starting with the present.
I don’t exactly recall what was on my list of things to do that day in December 1976, but certainly death was not one of them. I was the head of a research laboratory in Seattle, Washington, where we used electron microscopes to study the effects of pollutants on fish. The lab was with the National Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Our facility sat on the edge of a ship canal that connected two huge lakes, part of the watery charm of Seattle.
With five assistants, two electron microscopes, a state-of-the-art photographic darkroom, and all kinds of fancy equipment to do our work, we were a busy research group—publishing papers and traveling in the United States and abroad to talk to groups of scientists. It was a time of excitement and career success for me. I had won the respect of my colleagues for earlier work with a high-speed ruby laser and its biological effects, and enjoyed the elected position of fellow with the American Association for Advancement of Science. I loved every minute of this work.
I did not spend much time at home, nor did I love housework. On that Friday night I was hurriedly cleaning house and had no idea that in minutes my life would change abruptly. The vacuum cleaner chugged along with me through the bedroom, down the long hallway, and I had nearly finished the living room. The last sweep was in front of the fireplace hearth, 15 inches away from the mantel. I did not bump the mantel or touch the fireplace, yet in a flash a heavy, leaded-glass art piece framed in thick oak toppled off the mantel onto my head. I crumpled to the carpet, crushing pain shot through my head, and I was out. From there on nothing was ordinary. My awareness no longer resided in my body. I had no sense of a body, or of my house, or of living across the street from Greenlake in Seattle, or even of my own name.
I was zipping along a long, dark tunnel, drawn to a beautiful and welcoming light far ahead. At the end of this tunnel, just before the entrance to the lighted place, my deceased mother and grandmother stood. They were radiant with good health, glowing with love, and welcomed me wordlessly. I was overwhelmed to see them. I had missed them intensely, but had no belief in an afterlife, so seeing them astonished me. It seemed like we were together for an eternity, and yet I moved on without remorse or sadness into the place where the light was stronger still….
My being was immersed in peace and tranquility. I had a relaxed inner hum of joy and such fullness of awareness that to leave or anticipate leaving was unthinkable. I was fully present in a manner that I had never experienced before….There was no sense of the passage of time or concern about what time it was or if there was anything else at all to do except to be fully present. What an unexpected surprise that this glorious place could be my destination: I was a staunch atheist. I had never heard of near-death experiences and had no inkling about spiritual experience in expanded realities…. I had no desire to leave, no desire to be or do anything other than bask in the luminous presence before me and all around me. There was no fear in me and no anticipation whatsoever.
At some point in this reverie, I recognized that my entire life was fully known and each part of it was understood and not judged. Did this awareness come from outside of me or well up from inside? I could not tell, but it gave me freedom from self-judgment.
Suddenly I was abruptly back on the floor of my living room with an excruciatingly sore head. I reached my hand to the hurt place and found a mat of dried blood. I was shocked to realize that I had been out for more than a few seconds. How long had I been unconscious? I did not seek medical help until Monday morning when my coworkers whisked me off to a doctor, who found a blood clot on my brain. I was instructed to go home and rest for a few weeks, but I did not need surgery. I had always been so healthy and physically active as a skier, mountain climber, and hiker that this was a major change for me.
I was flooded with new appreciation for my life. I was equally flooded with new awareness of the expanse of possible realities. To be sure, as my awareness of the certainty of an afterlife expanded so did my appreciation of the precious moments of human existence. Initially, I tried to dismiss the entire vision of “the other side,” but I could not shake the impact of the peace, joy, and clarity I felt. The images were brilliantly fixed in my mind.
Fortunately, my recovery was complete with no functional or clinical brain damage. I returned to the lab and the work there, but I also began searching for books and people who knew about near-death experience. I found a local healer and took classes with him. I began meditating daily. Some seven years later, and after a profound visionary calling to healing, I resigned my position at the laboratory and opened a small office as a healing facilitator. Now, 26 years later, these decades of work, meditation, travel, and writing continue full of joy, growth, new insights, and great appreciation for all that has happened….
[Luckily,] it does not take a near-death experience to increase awareness nor to embrace a fuller appreciation of life. In my case, as a thoroughly hardheaded person, I’ve often thought that it did take a crack on the head to get my attention. Now I listen more easily and quickly, not out of fear of another injury, but from a place of remembering the exquisiteness of the other side, and how I felt totally known and loved. My understanding of reality changed permanently. If we are touched by the divine presence during meditation, in synagogue, in a mosque, in church, in the wilderness, or wherever it may happen, the result can bring new insights. How we see our lives and the world around us is transformed.